Top Tory linked to content-scraping software firm

Conservative housing minister Grant Shapps set up a company that sold software to set up web pages populated with other sites' content in order to make money from Google ads — a breach of the search giant's rules.
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

A top British politician is in the spotlight after being revealed as a founder of TrafficPaymaster, a website content-scraping software that helped customers breach Google's AdSense rules.

Housing minister Grant Shapps founded HowToCorp, the company that offered the software, according to a report in The Guardian. TrafficPaymaster lets users create web pages using content already published online, then get revenue from ads that Google delivers to those pages.

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps. Image credit: Department for Communities and Local Government/Flickr

However, this practice is against Google's terms and conditions for AdSense, which lets online publishers make money by displaying ads that businesses have paid Google to distribute. The search giant derives the lion's share of its profits from providing online advertising.

"Sometimes we come across sites that are using software to generate automated content. These sites might look like normal news sites, but the information is completely plagiarised. Scraping content and passing it off as one's own is not only wrong, but it also happens to be a serious violation of our policies," Google said on its AdSense blog last year.

According to his spokesman, Shapps has been involved in HowToCorp since 2000, but sold his share four years ago. Shapps's spokesman clarified his involvement with the company on Monday.

"The company is an independent corporate person and Mr Shapps is not involved in this business. He doesn't own, work in or for, or derive an income from this Limited company. He sold the firm in 2008," he said.

TrafficPaymaster comes in $297 (£186) or $497 editions, and promises to deliver traffic and content for a website in order to increase pay-per-click revenue.

As well as 'scraping' — sometimes taking excerpts of whole articles from other websites — the software provides fully-automated 'spinning' features. This means it promises to automatically rewrite reports so that they contain at least 55-percent original content.

Google had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

Shapps has run into trouble over automated software before: he came in for criticism after he was suspected of using an automatic tool to follow and unfollow people on Twitter in order to gain larger follower numbers.

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